Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. Westfield Books, 2010. ISBN 9781934813324. $16.95 250 pp Grades 8 -adult. Read reviews about Scars here.
In Scars Cheryl Rainfield has created a vibrant character, Kendra, who realistically deals with an unbelievable number of issues in just 250 pages. Fifteen year old Kendra experiences flashbacks as she tries to recall the identity of her abuser. Since she suppressed these painful memories, attempting to deal with them causes her emotional pain which she then attempts to release through cutting, or self-harm. Her mother is unsupportive of Kendra’s artistic efforts, individuality, and sexual orientation. To make her therapy more difficult, Kendra must deal with a stalker who seems to be trying to prevent her memory from returning.
The strands of these issues weave together an amazing story until suddenly they form a tapestry of betrayal with a shocking conclusion.
Scars was difficult for me to read and I have struggled over sharing with you about this title. Unfortunately, like the author, I was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and can relate to the emotions of her character. Like Kendra, the abuse was not addressed until I was much older. During Kendra’s remarkable journey of uncovering her memories of who her abuser was, we are given flashbacks to the actual incidents. These were very hard for me to read because I tried to suppress my own memories growing up. Until there was a confrontation between family members who had known of the abuse and myself at age 18, I did not know that anyone had ever been aware the abuse had occurred.
They thought they had managed to shame the abuser into stopping and that I wasn’t left alone with him from that point until his death when I was just 7. When the confrontation occurred at 18 years of age, I shared some of the flashbacks and memories of what had happened in the intervening time, which then shocked the family members into revealing some of their own abuse. Suddenly I was dealing with their grief and remorse at not having adequately protected me at the same time as I was battling my own anger with everyone’s silence at their own abuse. How did I handle this at 18? I suppressed it again to mention it casually through the years as if I had dealt with it and moved on. I played the role of good girl who didn’t discuss it with any other family members who might be hurt by any tarnishing of the memory of this person.
It wasn’t until I was reading Scars that I faced the fact that I have not managed to forget or move on. I have made choices in my life based upon my fears and situational similarities to memories of the past. In the past I have either reacted with stiffness at men’s attempts to casually display affection or I have gone to the other extreme.
One of the best parts of this book is the resource section at the back for others who are dealing with any of the issues involved in Scars. This is the most comprehensive list I’ve seen. I have had a student come to me to request more information and access to these titles particularly titles on cutting. While I cannot be a counselor for all 1000 students, I can connect them to good counselors, websites, books, and more. I have resources for a counselor for myself if I choose to learn how to handle these memories.
After reading Scars, I was looking for an opportunity to share the ARC with a student to get his or her opinion on its appropriateness in a middle school collection. There are so many issues included – sexual abuse, self-harm through cutting, stalkers, and sexual orientation – that I worried Scars would simply read as a laundry list of issues instead of a vibrant story of hope and learning to cope. Would parents reject this title as “too mature” without allowing students to read a truly amazing story?
One of my students had been sharing her horrorstory writings with me. These were incredibly graphic. While we discussed her horror stories in the library, a school psychologist was listening openly and asked if her mother knew what she wrote. The student confirmed that she did. The psychologist was worried yet didn’t know how she could step in and possibly disrupt our open conversation.
When the student asked me for suggestions of books with extremely intense emotions and drama like child kidnapping and abuse, I shared several that we had, along with the strategy of locating “books with issues”. Then I asked the student if she wanted to read Scars. I discussed my concerns with the book and how I was curious how parents would view this title. I asked her permission to contact her mother and talk about the book she’d be reading. We agreed she would take it home to read that night and bring it back so I could write my review the next day.
I take Intellectual Freedom and the Library Bill of Rights very seriously. I did not want to censor this student’s access to Scars. I had a relationship with the student and parent that was comfortable enough to openly discuss my concerns and I did want to know about a parent’s reaction. As I dialed the telephone, I wondered if the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee ,to whom I liaison for the Executive Board, would consider what I was doing blasphemous. Was I being too protective? Was I attempting to act in loco parentis? What if the parent objected?
It was a wonderful phone conversation to have. Through reaching out to this parent I was able to express my concerns with her daughter’s writings, discuss issues of abuse and self-harm, and to discuss intellectual freedom in choosing titles to read. I assured the mother that I was not forcing her child to read this title and that there were resources available in the book and at school to help cope with any questions about the issues. I encouraged her to look at the book that night and to read it with her daughter so she could discuss it openly.
The next morning the student beamed as she returned the book to me. Her mother was surprised at her interest, yet willing to leave the decision to read or not read Scars to her daughter. The student then pleaded to keep the book until she had finished it. Two days later, when she brought back the book, she also brought two friends who had been reading along with her and wanted to check it out to finish reading.
We had a very open discussion as to what ages Scars would appeal. They felt that eighth graders might enjoy it the most but that it should be available to other mature readers. They said mature because they confessed there were some areas in the story that confused them, but they thought the eighth graders would know more about life, dating, and sex who would better understand it. Each of them raved about what an excellent book it was and that they would be looking for evidence of SIARI (self-injury and related issues) among their friends so that other people could learn healthy ways to cope with pain.